Sunday, October 19, 2014

Big Country - Steeltown

Today (October 19th) is the thirtieth anniversary of Steeltown, the second studio album from Big Country. Around the globe, it went to number 53 in Canada and Germany, number 33 in the Netherlands, number 28 in Sweden, number 15 in New Zealand, number 12 in Norway, and number 1 in the UK. Here in the US, it spent seventeen weeks on the Billboard Album chart, peaking at number 70.

Side one opens with the rousing rocker “Flame of the West”. The lyrics tell of a charismatic leader with dreams of world conquest. Is this how many saw Reagan?

“East of Eden”, the first single, charted at number 49 in New Zealand and number 17 in the UK. This one has a meandering mid-tempo rhythm and lilting vocals that carry you along.

The title track “Steeltown” is about the town of Corby in the United Kingdom. Many worked at the steelworks there but found themselves unemployed in the early 80’s.

The second single “Where the Rose is Sown” climbed to number 29 in the UK. The song shows two sides of war – the propaganda of the government and the thoughts of a drafted man. I like how this song is constructed, with the two sides juxtaposed with each line of the first two verses. Then, the final verse is all from the soldier’s point of view.

“Come Back to Me” continues the soldier and war theme, this time with lyrics from a woman who remained behind pregnant while her love went off to combat.

Side two starts with “Tall Ships Go”. This one, about a man haunted by voices and dreams, does not really do much for me. I just don’t get into the flow of it.

“Girl With Grey Eyes” changes things up with a refreshingly welcomed love song.

The music of “Rain Dance” very much reflects the band’s Celtic roots.

“The Great Divide” tells of the fine line between unions and management. It was inspired by guitarist Bruce Watson’s friend who was employed at the same dockyard as he and Stuart Adamson.

“Just a Shadow”, the closing track of the original vinyl, was the third single. It went to number 26 in the UK.

The later re-release of the album added five additional bonus tracks which included some B-sides of singles.

Steeltown was a complete miss for me back in 1984; I am certain that I haven’t heard any of these tracks prior to this review. Admittedly, this record is very deep while I am very much not. I understand that it was important for Big Country to produce music that was relevant to the times and events that they were experiencing in their home country of Scotland. Because I was focused at the time on what was going on in my college and my corner of the world, I never really got into the whole world politics scene. I would rather dance my nights away in ignorance.

Still, this is a good record. The band again worked with producer Steve Lillywhite, who also worked with groups like U2 and Simple Minds at the time. I guess that’s why, in some ways, this album reminds me a bit of U2.

For more albums featuring Big Country, click here.

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